OU connections in ESPN’s top transfers since 2018

The transfer portal has been huge for the Oklahoma Sooners over the past decade. They’ve won two Heisman winners and one Heisman finalist as quarterbacks, and the guy who’ll start for them in 2022, Dillon Gabriel, cemented the position of Sooners quarterback after Caleb Williams put his name on the portal.

The portal gives and the portal takes away.

Because it’s college football’s equivalent of the NFL’s free agency, it gives head coaches another way to create rosters to meet depth chart requirements or find legitimate starters.

ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren has ranked the 40 highest impact transfers (ESPN+) over the past five years, and several names have an Oklahoma connection. Though the list dates back to 2018, Kyler Murray joined the Sooners in 2017, so he didn’t quite make the list.

2. Jalen Hurts of Alabama

11/16/2019; Waco, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Rhamondre Stevenson (29) and quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) in action during the game between the Bears and the Sooners at McLane Stadium. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What ESPN says:

Hurts had an interesting collegiate career, winning the seed in the second game of his freshman season at Alabama. He threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, also adding 13 touchdowns on the ground. In his sophomore season, Hurts threw for 2,081 yards and 17 touchdowns but was benched in the national championship game for Tua Tagovailoa, who later won the title for the Crimson Tide. Tagovailoa was then the starter the following season, leading to Hurt’s transfer to Oklahoma. Under coach Lincoln Riley, Hurts threw for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns, finishing second to Burrow. – Van Haaren, ESPN

Jalen Hurts’ 2019 season is arguably one of the most prolific non-Heisman Trophy quarterback seasons in the past two decades. 52 total touchdowns and more than 5,000 combined passing and rushing yards. And who will ever forget the incredible comeback against Baylor? He may not have started his career with the Sooners, but he hit the ground running and led Oklahoma to the college football playoffs. Unfortunately, they faced Joe Burrow (No. 1 on ESPN’s list) and an LSU team that was making historic numbers en route to an unbeaten season and a national title.

4. Caleb Williams to USC

April 23, 2022; Los Angeles, California, United States; Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) throws the ball during the spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What ESPN says:

Williams made the switch just this offseason when Riley left Oklahoma to take the head coaching job at USC. Williams had 1,912 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions and 442 rush yards and six touchdowns in 11 games last season. He was only a freshman when he replaced then-starter Spencer Rattler at quarterback and now has an opportunity to reverse the Trojans’ offense under Riley. Williams has also helped attract other players, including wide receivers Jordan Addison and Mario Williams. – VanHaaren

Caleb Williams was really good in his one season at Norman. The comeback win at the Red River Showdown was incredible. For better or worse, he will be remembered for poor performances against Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and post-Lincoln Riley to USC.

10. Spencer Rattler to South Carolina

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler (right) throws alongside former NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning at Manning Passing Academy on the Nicholls State University campus in Thibodaux, La. Friday, June 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

What ESPN says:

Rattler was the No. 29 in the 2019 class from Arizona and signed with Riley and Oklahoma. He sat on campus for most of his freshman season but broke out in 2020 when he threw for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 160 yards and six touchdowns that season. Rattler had some Heisman hype heading into the 2021 season but was ultimately replaced by Caleb Williams. After finishing with 1,483 pass yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, he moved to South Carolina to play for Shane Beamer and should be the starting quarterback this season. – Van Haaren, ESPN

Spencer Rattler had some good moments for Oklahoma, but his career never lived up to the “QB1” hype that preceded his tenure at Norman. Though he was a quarterback who underperformed at times, he was also let down by a game plan that tried to force the problem downfield when Rattler and the Oklahoma Sooners offense found success in the fast passing game against Kansas State. He’ll get a fresh start in South Carolina and a chance to rebuild his reputation before likely moving to the NFL in 2023.

21. UCF’s Dillon Gabriel

Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby pats Dillon Gabriel (8) on the helmet during the University of Oklahoma’s annual spring football game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, April 23, 2022. Bryan Terry, The Oklahoma

What ESPN says:

During the 2019 and 2020 seasons at UCF, Gabriel threw for a total of 7,223 yards and 61 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He’s coming to Oklahoma now after the Sooners lost both Williams and Rattler and needs a stabilizing force at the position. Gabriel should be able to play immediately after reuniting with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. – Van Haaren, ESPN

The Oklahoma Sooners had a transfer portal plan from Caleb Williams and that was Dillon Gabriel. Just hours after Williams entered the portal, Gabriel joined the Sooners from UCLA to reunite with Jeff Lebby, his offensive coordinator when he was a freshman at UCF.

34.Mario Williams to USC

What ESPN says:

As a freshman last season, Williams had 380 receiving yards on 35 receptions and four touchdowns. He will reunite with quarterback Caleb Williams and is part of a full offensive restart for the Trojans. – Van Haaren, ESPN

Mario Williams showed plenty of promise during his lonely season with the Oklahoma Sooners, staying connected with friend Caleb Williams and joining USC. He’s a good wide receiver with the ability to win in every area and would benefit from more consistent play time. He won’t be the focus of USC’s offense where Caleb can run the ball, Bilitnekoff winner Jordan Addison and Oregon transfer Travis Dye at running back.

Where is Tanner Moredecai?

10/30/2021; Houston, TX, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) throws a pass against the Houston Cougars during the first quarter at TDECU Stadium. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It could be argued that the transfer of Tanner Mordecai to SMU up to this point has been as impactful as anyone in the top 10 not named Jalen Hurts simply because we’ve seen what he did for the Mustangs last year. We haven’t seen Caleb Williams or Mario Williams or Jordan Addison at USC yet. They will be good, but VanHaaren reckons they will be good by including them in the top 10 but excluding Mordecai altogether.

Moredcai completed 68% of his passes for 3,628 yards and threw 39 touchdowns. His performance and that of SMU in 2021 helped Sonny Dykes land a job with TCU the following offseason.

Key Lawrence is a key Sooners defense

Oklahoma’s Key Lawrence (12) forces a fumble as he tackles Iowa State’s Brock Purdy (15) during a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Iowa State Cyclones at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman , ok, hits. , Saturday, November 20, 2021. Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

With VanHaaren predicting the impact a player like Mario Williams has had or will have, I don’t think we should be sleeping on the impact Key Lawrence has had in 2021 or will have on the Oklahoma Sooners defense in 2022.

His edge and physicality brought a physical attitude to the back seven that had a major impact on Texas Tech when they knocked him out as a cornerback for the first time in his career, or against Iowa State when he rocked Brock Purdy to fumble at Jalen forcing Redmond rallied and rumbled into the end zone.

Lawrence had a strong first season at Norman, but in 2022 he will have an even bigger impact on Brent Venables’ defense.

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